One of the more enjoyable parts of working out each morning at Bally’s was the Gang of Five. These were five guys who gathered most mornings with coffee in hand near the reception desk and worked to solve all the ills of the world. At least in their minds.) One morning, I had the dubious pleasure of walking in on what appeared to be a very heated conversation. I don’t know why, but for some reason they decided to focus on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Somehow their conversation got fixated on Moslems in general, and the vitriol was flying. I was surprised at what these normally easy going guys felt were legitimate ways to deal with the perceived problem.
Of course, my arrival prompted the need to have the “priest” share his thoughts. And so I did, but only after taking my time to think through my strategy. After a few seconds, I realized all these men were devout church goers. So I decided to answer the question with a question. “What did Jesus teach?” I asked. “That’s not pertinent Father, we are talking politics not religion.” “But it is,” I responded. “What we talk about on Sunday morning is supposed to form the foundation for how we live our lives the rest of the week. Now, if I remember correctly, Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, and for me that is how we are to respond to the issue at hand.” With this, one of the guys looked at me and said, “That sounds nice Father, but not realistic.”
In this morning’s Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus to help them “increase their faith.” At first glance, it is an odd request, especially coming from a group of men who have left their families and their jobs behind to follow Jesus. But if you think about it, the request is not all that odd. It is easy to believe in Jesus, actually there isn’t any reason not to believe in Jesus. Jesus is a historical fact. Jesus was a living, breathing individual, who was put to death by the Roman government during the first century. Where we need help, is in trusting in what Jesus taught, that the Reign of God is near.
The Reign of God, which Jesus proclaims and John of Patmos describes in the Book of Revelation, is near, will happen, and will look and feel very different than the world we understand today. The primary focus of Luke’s message is, through Christ, the Reign of God has arrived. Even before Luke tells of Christ’s birth, Mary tells Elizabeth of the cataclysmic change about to happen in the words of the Magnificat.
In the Magnificat, Mary tells Elizabeth how the world will be made radically different, how injustice will be eliminated and replaced with divine justice, divine peace and divine love. . . How it will all begin through a divine act of love. . .the life and death of Jesus, the Christ.
The challenge the disciples faced, and we face today is. . . .do we trust this to be true? Are we willing to take the risk in believing that peace can prevail, and that love can conquer all, or at least enough to let go of our military might and attempt to befriend our enemies?
Like you and me, this was the faith issue/the trust issue, the disciples were seeking to increase. Like the disciples,we too are called to live and to share the promise of the Reign with the greater world in the same way Jesus does. And the Reign, Jesus tells them, can happen with faith the size of a mustard seed.
The mustard seed, the smallest seed known at that time can grow into a one of the largest trees in the garden. Faith the size of a dot can push the Reign of God towards reality.
This is what the heart of Jesus’ mission is, to inspire the world towards becoming the Reign of God. Jesus’s focus was not about physical healing, or moving trees, but about healing the world of evil and darkness, opening the way for the healing power of divine love in order to restore creation to what God had intended. And, as the Church, the Body of Christ, we are called called to live and to breathe the Reign of God.
But how can the Reign of God begin if all any of us have is faith the size of a mustard seed?
On You Tube there is a short video which begins with one man dancing on a beach while others look on with dismay. Eventually, another person joins in and begins to dance as well. Over time more of the crowd enters into the dance and then suddenly the movement grows and the entire beach is a buzz with people dancing in unison.
This is how we begin to the build the Rein of God. Not with dancing, but by one person choosing love over hatred. Divine love entered the world through Jesus and spread to the disciples. Over time a world wide movement called Christianity came into being. When the movement has strayed from its mission, God has inspired someone new to bring it back on course as a new new dance of love is begun.
On Friday, we celebrated the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. While most of the world celebrates St. Francis for his love of creation. What Francis should be remembered for is his willingness to answer God’s call and to restore the Church.
Francis was born in the later years of the twelfth century into a wealthy merchant family. As a young man, he was educated and then trained to be part of Assisi’s army. While fighting in Perugia, Francis was badly wounded and sent home to recover. Francis’ recovery took a long time. Out of boredom, Francis began exploring the woods that surrounded the hills of Assisi. It was on one of his walks when he discovered a small, abandoned chapel at the bottom of Assisi. This small abandoned chapel, became Francis’ refuge from the world and here he would enter into hours of prayer and meditation. And it was there, that he heard the figure of Christ on the Cross of St. Damiano tell him to restore his Church. At first, Francis assumed this meant to repair the abandoned chapel, but in time he realized God was calling him literally to restore the greater church itself.
Religious life was not what Francis’ father had intended for his son. To stop Francis from pursuing God’s dream for him, his father literally locked his son in his room. But this did not deter Francis. Hoping to fully discourage Francis, Francis’ father threatened to take everything away from him, including the clothes on his back if he continued in attempting a life with God. And then, one day in the town square, before the Bishop and magistrates of Assisi, Francis publicly denounced his father’s name and his home, stripped himself of his clothes and formally entered a life of prayer and poverty.
This is similar to how Christ sent his disciples out into the world to evangelize. Francis began his ministry with nothing more than the clothes the Bishop gave him on his back, faith the size of a mustard seed, and a passion for what can be, the Reign of God.
Over time, people in and around Assisi became attracted to Francis’ simple life of prayer and the message of being loved by God and to love others. in time, others began to join in with this sole man, not dancing, but praying in the woods and sharing the message of God’s love and forgiveness. As one joined, so did another, and then another, until the followers of Francis became so numerous the Pope had little choice but to recognize the followers of Francis as a formal religious order within the church dedicated to living lives of prayer, poverty, chastity, and caring for the poor.
In the beginning, the order kept no buildings, no hermitages, and unlike other orders of its day, the followers of Francis lived in the world among the poor as servants of the poor.
One person, St. Francis, who started out with faith the size of a mustard seed, connected that faith with others and together they moved the unmovable mountain of a crumbling and corrupt Church as they reformed the religious life of their time.
We too can do something similar, because as Jesus tells us, we can move the mountains of hatred and the mountains of darkness and of evil out of the way and fill those places with the love and peace of God. All it takes is trust, a trust in Jesus, a trust in the love of God, and a trust in what the Reign of God will be, which as Jesus tells us, is close at hand.